Group cover eludes ME victim

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The Independent Online
A CHARTERED accountant suffering from the debilitating illness ME has won pounds 10,000 in an out-of-court settlement with her employer after being dismissed two months before she would have been able to claim under her health insurance plan.

Tina Jerram had sued her former employer, the accountancy firm Robson Rhodes, for the benefits she would have received.

Her savings have been used to fund additional treatment for her medical condition, which leaves her feeling permanently exhausted and confines her indoors most of the time.

Ms Jerram said: 'I still feel very let down. Dismissing me at that point has left me without any of the benefits I might have been able to claim.'

Robson Rhodes employs hundreds of people at offices throughout the country and offers them group permanent health insurance (PHI) benefits.

Group PHI is designed to help long-term sick employees by paying their wages either until the person is well again or until retirement.

Robson Rhodes staff normally become eligible for benefits after a year.

Ms Jerram, 32, joined the company's Bristol office in March 1991. She applied to be covered early under its PHI scheme. After a medical in July 1991, this was agreed.

She said: 'At the time I felt perfectly well. I even went on a canoeing holiday in June. There were no signs there of ill health, and in an appraisal of my work in August there was no criticism made of me.'

But a few weeks later, Ms Jerram began to feel ill. She was permanently tired and suffered from nausea, dizziness and severe muscle pains. She was also troubled by loss of memory and sleep disturbances and was eventually forced to take sickness leave from work. ME was diagnosed by a specialist, to whom she was referred by her GP.

'At the end of October, I was asked by Robson Rhodes to see a company doctor. Although I later asked to see his report, I was never shown it,' Ms Jerram added.

'I was dismissed in January 1992. An open reference given to me by the company gives health as the reason for my dismissal.

'I still thought that I was covered by the PHI scheme and in February I contacted the insurers to inform them that I would be claiming.'

At the time of her dismissal, Ms Jerram earned almost pounds 31,000 a year. Under the terms of her PHI contract she would have received 90 per cent of that amount, net of state benefits, rising by 5 per cent each year until she was fit to return to work.

However, Unum, the insurer, wrote back to say that as she was no longer employed by Robson Rhodes, she could not claim any PHI benefits.

Ms Jerram now lives on a state disability benefit of pounds 60 a week. Since receiving her settlement from Robson Rhodes, she has been told by the Department of Social Security that her benefit may be affected because she now has savings of more than pounds 8,000.

She said: 'It could be argued that I should have known I would no longer be covered. Yet the firm is large and has its own personnel department, while at that time I was hardly in a fit state to think.

'I want people to know what they might be letting themselves in for. If they offer you PHI as one of the perks of the job and then sack you just before you can claim it, it's hardly a perk any more.

'I am also disappointed by the Legal Aid system because it only seems to back dead certs. Once I was offered pounds 10,000 by Robson Rhodes, then my Legal Aid entitlement was taken away.'

A spokesman from Robson Rhodes confirmed the pounds 10,000 payment but said he was unable to comment further. 'We have discharged our duties in a responsible manner and we now consider the matter closed,' he added.